San Francisco Opera’s Romeo & Juliet

Tenor Pene Pati, starring as Romeo, and Soprano Nadine Sierra, as Juliet, in San Francisco Opera’s opening night.
Tenor Pene Pati, starring as Romeo, and Soprano Nadine Sierra, as Juliet, in San Francisco Opera’s opening night.

The passion and drama of the Capulets’ ball comes to life at the opening night.

BY STEPH KEAY | PHOTOS BY DREW ALTIZER

This year, the San Francisco Opera Guild’s opening night ball magically transported guests from the streets of San Francisco to the romantic scenes captured in the lush gardens of Verona, Italy, where Romeo spoke words of love to Juliet upon a balcony. J. Riccardo Benavides beautifully reproduce the moment with the extravagant table settings and opulent décor created for the patrons’ dinner served before Gounod’s opera. Patrons, too, personified the passion and artistry with their gowns and glittering masks. Co-Chair Elizabeth Birka-White wore an enchanting Givenchy gown, and Co-Chair Jane Mudge was stunning in Marchesa. Mary Poland, the beloved Opera Guild president, was a showstopper in Rubin Singer. Along with the classic gowns and merriment, the event raised funds to support the many opera education programs that support the students of San Francisco.

Sonya Molodetskaya, Willie Brown, Victor Makras, Farah Makras
Sonya Molodetskaya, Willie Brown, Victor Makras, Farah Makras
San Francisco Opera General Director Matthew Shilvock, Opera Ball 2019 co-chairs Elizabeth Birka-White (in Givenchy) and Jane Mudge (in Marchesa), and Kate Shilvock (in Karen Caldwell).
San Francisco Opera General Director Matthew Shilvock, Opera Ball 2019 co-chairs Elizabeth Birka-White (in Givenchy) and Jane Mudge (in Marchesa), and Kate Shilvock (in Karen Caldwell).
San Francisco Mayor London Breed and Haute Living Owner/Publisher Olivia Hsu Decker
San Francisco Mayor London Breed and Haute Living Owner/Publisher Olivia Hsu Decker

Elaborate headpieces, henna masks, and flowing custom couture gowns were among the plentiful and creative costumes at the sold-out Opera Ball 2019: The Capulets’ Masked Ball, San Francisco Opera Guild’s opening night celebration. Opera Guild President Mary Poland and gala co-chairs Elizabeth Birka-White and Jane Mudge welcomed 750 attendees on a red carpet at the War Memorial Opera House. Guests included civic leaders, philanthropists, captains of industry, and a long list of distinguished individuals such as San Francisco Mayor London Breed, former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown, and former Secretary of State George Shultz and his wife who is Chief of Protocol for the State of California Charlotte Shultz, among others.

Jan Shrem and Maria Manetti Shrem
Jan Shrem and Maria Manetti Shrem
Bill Poland and Mary Poland
Bill Poland and Mary Poland
Roselyne Swig and Susan Swig
Roselyne Swig and Susan Swig

In honor of the event, City Hall was lit in green, white, and red to celebrate the Opera Ball tent décor inspired by the Italian gardens of Verona. Designed by event extraordinaire J. Riccardo Benavides, attendees dined among real foliage, water fountains, and trees lit with blossom-shaped lights. Following dinner, guests returned to the Opera House for the opening night performance of Romeo and Juliet, Gounod’s romantic masterpiece returning to the repertory of San Francisco Opera after a 32-year hiatus in the acclaimed staging by Opéra de Monte-Carlo Director Jean-Louis Grinda. French-Canadian conductor Yves Abel led the San Francisco Opera Orchestra, with a cast headed by tenor Pene Pati and soprano Nadine Sierra as the titular lovers. The evening continued with a lively afterparty, in which Opera Ball attendees and BRAVO! Club members came together to dance the night away.

San Francisco's City Hall
San Francisco’s City Hall
Jorge Maumer and Carolyn Chandler
Jorge Maumer and Carolyn Chandler
John Gunn, Cynthia Fry Gunn, and Matthew Shilvock
John Gunn, Cynthia Fry Gunn, and Matthew Shilvock
Jack Calhoun, Dede Wilsey, and Thomas Campbell.
Jack Calhoun, Dede Wilsey, and Thomas Campbell.
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